Princeton women’s basketball came back throughout this season and came back once more in a second-half rally over Harvard to claim its fourth straight Ivy Madness tournament title.
The top-seeded Tigers (23-5) rallied from an 11-point third-quarter deficit for a 54-48 win over third-seeded Harvard (17-11) in the championship game Saturday in Jadwin Gym.
“It was not easy,” said Princeton coach Carla Berube. “We struck some adversity early in the Ivy League season. That makes it really sweet that we came from that point and came together.”
Harvard upset second-seeded Columbia in overtime Friday while Princeton had stopped Penn in its semifinal. The championship win before almost 2,000 fans, including a host of former players, gives the Tigers the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament instead of waiting for a potential at-large selection.
“You never want to leave it up to chance,” said Princeton forward Ellie Mitchell ’24. “We won the regular season and wanted to win the tournament. We got it done and it’s really exciting.”
Princeton, seeded 10th in the Greenville 2 Region, will open against No. 7 seed North Carolina State Friday in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Mitchell had the go-ahead basket and some key rebounds for her second straight double-double with 10 points and 15 rebounds. After going 17 games without double figures in points, Mitchell scored at least 10 points in both Ivy Madness games.
“It’s a great moment,” Mitchell said. “I’ve said time and again, I’m always trying to get better, trying to be more confident. It goes back to my teammates, my coaches. They have a lot of faith in me and they say, shoot the ball.”
Kaitlyn Chen ’24 led Princeton with 21 points, including 13 of Princeton’s 18 first-quarter points. Grace Stone ’23 had game-highs of six assists and five rebounds. Julia Cunningham ’23 had nine points and four steals.
Saturday’s win completed a season-long comeback for the Tigers from an 0-2 start to the Ivy regular season. Harvard beat Princeton in the season opener and Columbia followed with a win at Jadwin, but since then the Tigers have won 15 straight games.
“At Harvard and against Columbia, some of our games in the nonconference we didn’t come together like we are now,” Berube said. “So this has been a work in progress. Just because we saw success last year, it doesn’t roll over into the next season. It takes time.”
Chen had 14 points in the first half. Nobody else had more than Cunningham’s four points. After Princeton held an 18-15 lead after the first quarter, Harvard exploded with a 9-0 run to close the first half up 32-23.
“Just like yesterday, you look at them in the huddle and they’re looking back saying, there’s no way we’re losing this,” Berube said. “They stuck together and relied on our defense to get big stops and rebounds.”
Princeton cut just two points off its deficit in the third quarter to make it 44-37 going into the final stanza. Mitchell came through offensively and as a rebounder, and the defense did the rest by holding Harvard to 1-for-12 shooting in the fourth quarter for a 17-4 Princeton scoring advantage.
Mitchell came up with two offensive rebounds that resulted in a 3-pointer by Maggie Connolly ’23 and two free throws for Chen to push Princeton within a point. After Harmoni Turner made a running shot for a 47-44 Harvard lead with five minutes left, Princeton closed the game on a 10-1 run.
A free throw by Stone and two by Chen tied it, 47-47. Elena Rodriguez’s free throw gave Harvard its last lead, 48-47, with 1:18 left.
“I think we do a really good job of coming together in those really important minutes of the game and key points of the game,” Chen said. “And we really look at each other and know it’s time to go and we really play well as a unit.”
After a Princeton timeout, Stone found Mitchell for the go-ahead layup with 49.7 seconds left. Mitchell was fouled after rebounding the next Harvard missed shot that Stone contested. The 43% free throw shooter made both free throws for a three-point edge with 37.2 seconds left.
“I’ve struggled throughout my career with foul shots,” Mitchell said. “But we practice situations like this all the time in practice. All my teammates said, you’ve got this, they’re going in, you’ve got this. I tried not to think too much. I think when I think too much, I get in my head. I had a great end result.”
Harvard missed a pair of free throws that could have cut into the lead, and Stone blocked the Crimson’s layup attempt, deflecting the ball off the Harvard shooter. Madison St. Rose ’26 made four free throws to seal the win. Stone held Crimson guard McKenzie Forbes to three points in the second half after she had 11 in the first half.
“Grace is awesome,” Chen said. “She brings so much on both ends of the court. If she’s not shooting well, she’s making plays for other people. Defensively she had a tough assignment. McKenzie Forbes is a tremendous player and I thought she did a really good job with her.”
Princeton awaits its NCAA tournament matchup, which will be announced Sunday night. The Tigers beat Kentucky in the first round last year before falling to Indiana.
“We want to win one more game and we want to be in the Sweet Sixteen,” Chen said. “I think we’re going to use that and hopefully have that help push us into the next round.”